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Ten Visual Effects Movies Made It to Oscar Shortlist, More Got Robbed

by Bill Desowitz
December 5, 2013 6:37 PM
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has shortlisted 10 movies for VFX Oscar consideration for the 86th Academy Awards, led by Alfonso Cuaron's blockbuster "Gravity" and "The Desolation of Smaug," the second in Peter Jackson's popular "Hobbit" trilogy. 

Joining them are Guillermo del Toro's robot mash-up, "Pacific Rim," J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" sequel, "Into Darkness," and three dystopian adventures: "Elysium," "World War Z," and "Oblivion." There was also room for two Marvel superhero stalwarts: "Iron Man 3" and "Thor: The Dark World."

The biggest surprise inclusion? "The Lone Ranger" flop that nonetheless featured two spectacular train fights. But left out of the running were Ron Howard's low-budget "Rush," which seamlessly integrated archival footage with riveting new racing action (not enough CG?); the under-performing "Ender's Game" (whose more conventional zero-gravity paled in comparison to "Gravity's" innovative approach); Zack Snyder's Supeman reboot, "Man of Steel" (whose powerful fights may have worn out their welcome); and Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful" (a mixed bag of tricks?).

In terms of VFX studio tallies, Industrial Light & Magic scored three entries with "Pacific Rim," "Into Darkness," and "The Lone Ranger" (plus Scott Farrar was loaned out to fix "World War Z" in post); Framestore did both "Gravity" and "Iron Man 3" (along with conceptualizing "World War Z" and "Thor"); Weta Digital created "Smaug" and assisted on "Iron Man 3"; MPC and Cinesite were mainstays on "World War Z" (MPC also worked on "The Lone Ranger"); Image Engine handled most of "Elysium"; Digital Domain (which collaborated on "Iron Man 3") shared "Oblivion" with Pixomondo; Double Negative was the lead on "Thor"; and Method Studios assisted on "Elysium, "Thor," and "Iron Man 3."

While "Gravity" is the obvious frontrunner for its game-changing tech and the advantage of being a Best Picture contender, "Smaug" has the menacing CG dragon in its favor (voiced by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch). I would also bet on "Pacific Rim," (which delivers the thrilling robot porn), "Elysium" (an exquisite balance between faux utopia and apocalyptic grunge), and "World War Z" (the zombie swarms are uniquely scary).

Then again, who knows? Maybe "Oblivion" sneaks in for its elegant CG.

The Visual Effects branch, meanwhile, will meet on Jan. 9 at the Academy to narrow the nominees to five for the annual "bakeoff."

Here's the complete list:



"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

"Iron Man 3"

"The Lone Ranger"


"Star Trek Into Darkness"

"Thor: The Dark World"

"Pacific Rim"

"World War Z"


  • Mustafa Işıldak | December 12, 2013 4:44 AMReply

    World War Z by far...

  • Brian | December 6, 2013 11:13 AMReply

    The only one on that list that I saw was PACIFIC RIM, which prompted me to immediately go back and watch some man-in-a-rubber suit Japanese monster movies. Too much CGI makes me very uneasy. I prefer the simpler pleasures of matte paintings and miniatures and, going back to the two films that inspired GODZILLA--the original KING KONG and BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS--stop-motion animation.

    I hope they give some kind of tribute at the Oscars to Ray Harryhausen, who died this year.

  • Zach | December 6, 2013 2:35 AMReply

    My Predictions:
    Pacific Rim
    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
    Iron Man 3
    and either
    Oblivion, Star Trek into Darkness, Elysium

  • cadavra | December 5, 2013 7:08 PMReply

    Glad that the VFX branch members judged LONE RANGER on its own considerable merits while tuning out the legions of haters who never bothered to actually see the film.

  • Steve | December 5, 2013 10:13 PM

    I don't think people wanted to hate on THE LONE RANGER, it's just we don't want to encourage Disney to assume that making $250 mil+ movies is okay, especially since they failed with John Carter and decided to whip out another $250 mil extravangaza to fail at that too. I'd like the lesson in this to be "Don't just give out $250 mil for a movie, it's too much. Break that $250 mil into more movies and give more opportunities for quality filmmaking."

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